In January 2018, a resident councillor of unimpeachable integrity successfully challenged the City of London Corporation on behalf of her constituents. Two weeks later, the Corporation referred her for prosecution which proved to be entirely groundless, and for two prejudiced hearings by its Standards Committee. The whole process cost tens of thousands of pounds of public money, and resulted in no sanction.
In December 2018, two motions were proposed in the City’s Court of Common Council in response to this scandal. Supported by only 14 out of elected 125 members, the motions aimed to reform:
(1) the Corporation’s “dispensations" policy, by removing undue restrictions on resident members speaking and voting on matters affecting their constituents, and
(2) the Corporation’s standards proceedings, by replacing members on the assessment, hearing and appeal bodies with independent persons.
The Policy Chair ambushed the first motion with an amendment to preserve the restrictive policy on “dispensations" to vote. A debate on the second motion was prevented by a member moving "that the question now be put”, after which the motion was overwhelmingly voted down.
In April 2019, 1,200 City residents signed a petition in which they declared that they had no confidence in the Corporation’s standards regime, and called for it to be reformed in line with the motions.
The campaign for standards reform continued, waged by only a handful of members, but with strong resident support and external publicity. It was aided by the propensity of the Standards Committee to make the wrong decision practically every time it acted.
In March 2020, a further case exposed in open Court the folly of members judging each other. Further motions for reform were proposed in June and October 2020, but were both neutered by amendments.
Even the Corporation-friendly Lisvane report, published in September 2020, recognised that the City’s standards regime was not fit for purpose. The report recommended its radical overhaul, together with the abolition of the Standards Committee.
Eventually, in January 2021, the Court of Common Council adopted those recommendations.The aims of the two motions proposed more than two years earlier were finally achieved. The Standards Committee has since disappeared into oblivion.
The success of the standards reform campaign - in the face of determined resistance by the Corporation’s leadership - proves that the Corporation, with all its financial, legal and PR resources, can be defeated.
This should encourage City residents to take further action against the lack of democratic accountability in the Corporation. They can do so by signing this petition, which calls for the reform of its planning process, another area in which residents are disenfranchised.
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